From the book: The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace

by: Daniel Goleman

CHAPTER TWO excerpts


EI Versus IQ as a Predictor of Workplace Performance

Does EI predict success more strongly than IQ? In one sense, this question is purely academic: in life, cognitive abilities and emotional intelligence always interplay. But in another sense, it has practical implications for significant workplace decisions. For example, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz offers qualitative data suggesting that basing the selection of high-level executives solely on their academic intelligence and business expertise and ignoring their emotional intelligence often leads to poor choices that can be disastrous for an organization.

There is good reason to expect that EI and IQ make separate and discrete contributions to performance. For one thing, early studies of the correlation between IQ and EI show a range from 0 to .36, depending on the measures used. John Mayer, using his own EI measure, reports a zero correlation with fluid intelligence and a .36 correlation with verbal IQ.

Reuven Bar-On, using his own measure, finds correlations ranging from .06 to .12-positive but not significant. However, the EI concept has been articulated relatively recently, and there has not yet been time to conduct a longitudinal study designed to assess the predictive power of EI relative to IQ in distinguishing workplace performance over the course of a career. My belief is that if such a study were done, IQ would be a much stronger predictor than EI of which jobs or professions people can enter. Because IQ stands as a proxy for the cognitive complexity a person can process, it should predict what technical expertise that person can master. Technical expertise, in turn, represents the major set of threshold competencies that determine whether a person can get and keep a job in a given field. IQ, then, plays a sorting function in determining what jobs people can hold. However, having enough cognitive intelligence to hold a given job does not by itself predict whether one will be a star performer or rise to management or leadership positions in one's field.

I found that for jobs of all kinds, emotional competencies were twice as prevalent among distinguishing competencies as were technical skills and purely cognitive abilities combined. In general the higher a position in an organization, the more EI mattered: for individuals in leadership positions, 85 percent of their competencies were in the EI domain. These competency models reflect the perceived value of EI competencies relative to technical and cognitive abilities and so are highly consequential. They already guide decisions about who is hired, who is put on a fast track for promotion, and where to focus development efforts-particularly for leadership-in many of the largest organizations throughout the world

EI may so strongly outstrip intellect alone in this context because those in the pools that were evaluated had had to clear relatively high entry hurdles for IQ and technical competence. For most positions, particularly those at the higher levels of an organization, competencies in technical and cognitive realms are threshold skills, essential requirements for entry into fields like engineering, law, or the executive management of an organization. Because everyone in a given field has its threshold skills, these basic abilities lose their power as distinguishing competencies, the capabilities that set outstanding performers apart from average.

IQ, then, mainly predicts what profession an individual can hold a job in - for instance, it takes a certain mental acumen to pass the bar exam or the MCATs. Estimates are that in order to pass the requisite cognitive hurdles such as exams or required coursework or mastery of technical subjects and enter a profession like law, engineering, or senior management, individuals need an IQ in the 110 to 120 range That means that once one is in the pool of people in a profession, one competes with people who are also at the high end of the bell curve for IQ. This is why, even though IQ is a strong predictor of success among the general population, its predictive power for outstanding performance weakens greatly once the individuals being compared narrow to a pool of people in a given job in an organization, particularly at its higher levels.

In contrast, there is less systematic selection pressure for emotional intelligence along the way to entering the ranks of such professions. Of course some minimal level of EI is needed to be successful in school and to enter a profession, but because there is no specific EI hurdle one must clear to enter a profession, there is a much wider range of EI abilities among those one competes with in one's field. For that reason, once people are in a given job, role, or profession, EI emerges as a more powerful predictor of who succeeds and who does not-for instance, who is promoted to the upper echelons of management and who passed over.

In short, my position is that IQ will be a more powerful predictor than EI of individuals' career success in studies of large populations over the career course because it sorts people before they embark on a career, determining which fields or professions they can enter. But when studies look within a job or profession to learn which individuals rise to the top and which plateau or fail, EI should prove a more powerful predictor of success than IQ.


IQ Versus EI: The Data

One of the few longitudinal studies to directly compare the contribution to work performance (as gauged by promotions) of cognitive competencies and EI competencies was done by Dulewicz and Higgs (1998). They reanalyzed data from a seven-year study of the career progress of fifty-eight general managers in the United Kingdom and Ireland, assessing three domains of ability-emotional skill (which they call EQ), intellectual aptitude (IQ), and managerial competency (MQ) that contributes to on-the-job performance. The emotional skill category included abilities like Resilience, Influence, Assertiveness, Integrity, and Leadership. The IQ domain was not assessed by intelligence test scores but by competencies used as surrogate measures, such as Analysis, Judgment, Planning, Creativity, and Risk-Taking. MQ included Supervision, Oral Communication, Business Sense, Self-Management, and Initiative and Independence.

Dulewicz and Higgs found that their measure of emotional intelligence accounted for 36 percent of the variance in organizational advancement whereas IQ accounted for 27 percent and MQ 16 percent.

The relative significance of emotional competencies compared to cognitive abilities has also been borne out by several converging analyses using different data sets. A competency study drawing on models from forty companies revealed that strengths in purely cognitive capacities were 27 percent more frequent in the stars than in the average performers, whereas greater strengths in emotional competencies were 53 percent more frequent. In Boyatzis's classic 1982 study of more than two thousand supervisors, middle managers, and executives at twelve organizations, all but two of the sixteen abilities setting the star apart from the average performers were emotional competencies. And an analysis of job competencies at 286 organizations worldwide by Spencer and Spencer (1993) indicated that eighteen of the twenty-one competencies in their generic model for distinguishing superior from average performers were EI based.

Go to: Career Success differences of Men and Women

Go to: Goleman's Emotional Intelligence competencies

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